Carrie Allison, Library of Misrepresentation and False Narratives, 2018. 17 found books with added materials, various dimensions.
Carrie Allison, Matrilineal Pilllows, 2018. 4 pillows with embroidery, glass beads, felt, velvet, velour and hide, each 46 x 46 cm.

 

Comfort is a pleasure intrinsic to many living rooms. One of the two artworks in the Living Room by mixed race-Indigenous artist Carrie Allison is a set of four hand-made pillows embellished with embroidery and beaded words. Carrie, who lives and works in K’jipuktuk/Halifax, made Matrilineal Pillows as a sweet homage to four women on her mother’s side of the family who furnished her childhood with comfort, warmth, and affection. These women are her great grandmother Mable; her grandmother, who she called Ma; her great aunt Ivy; and her mother. Each pillow is made in colours and materials – such as a maroon and mustard, velvet and felt – that remind Carrie of the women each pillow honours. The words and phrases Carrie has chosen commemorate each woman’s characteristic expressions. Ivy’s Pillow has the Cree word astum beaded onto the cream-coloured velour in neon yellow letters that are outlined by a line of hot pink beads. Translated, astum means “come here” – at times an affectionate invitation and at others a stern command. On Mable’s Pillow, the words “god damn guy” are carefully beaded in silver on deep maroon velvet. These were the only words Carrie’s great-grandmother knew how to speak in English. The ambiguous question “What are you good for?” is embroidered in pink on grey wool on her grandmother’s pillow, while Mom’s Pillow bears the more straightforward expression of endearment “My little sugarplum.” This series is a thoughtful exploration of the tenuousness of memory, the complexity of intimacy, and the preciousness of affection in the family. For Carrie, whose grandmother was a residential school survivor, emotional expressions at home felt fraught with echoes of the spiritual and emotional wound of this traumatic interruption in the family culture of love. The slow and intentional construction of the pillows, as well as the repetitive action of beading and embroidering their words, was a reparative gesture that now allows Matrilineal Pillows to work as a powerful meditation on the resilience of the women who raised Carrie, and the legacy of their love that she embodies.

Additional work by Carrie can be found elsewhere in the Living Room. In the cozy reading nook set to the side of the central arrangement of couches and arm chairs, Carrie’s ongoing project, the Library of Misrepresentation, can be seen arranged on a cork side table and compiled in an oak magazine holder next to the grey Jasper chair. At the time of this exhibition, the Library of Misrepresentation is a collection of seventeen books that Carrie has found in used book stores, garage sales, and thrift stores. These books, which range from children’s picture books and Canadiana fiction romanticizing cowboys and “indians” to historical accounts documenting a “fading civilization,” misrepresent Indigenous people and their culture, promoting pan-Indian stereotypes and false narratives. Carrie has diligently interrupted four books from the Library of Misrepresentation so far by intricately embroidering and beading their covers and pages. For example, on the cover of Buffalo Bill the Last of the Great Scouts, Carrie stitched the image of a robust buffalo in black, brown, and white thread over the representation of a grizzled Buffalo Bill. Métis flower motifs in purple, yellow, and green thread are embroidered along the right side of the cover, obscuring the words Scout and Bill. The new title of this book reads Buffalo The Last of the Great. In another intervention, Carrie has beaded shut a book of “Traditional Indian Crafts” from the mid-twentieth century. Written from a non-Indigenous point of view, the crafts in this book promote a generalized interpretation of “Indian-ness” that focuses on rustic folk-style crafts rather than a truthful representation of specific Indigenous cultural practices. For Carrie, the act of amassing these books is significant: she is taking them and their false, erroneous messages about Indigenous peoples and cultures out of circulation, and replacing and re-framing them with her own Indigenous perspective.

– JH